About Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Pilgrim, writer, speaker, retreat director, social media minister, church secretary - it's hard to believe I was once a corporate executive, but I was. Married to an incredible man, have a spectacular stepdaughter, dog and cat.

Going up, not taking sides

lamottA short Ascension post featuring the words of Anne Lamott. Apparently her priest friend said them to her, but since they were in her book, they kind of became hers. It doesn’t matter, it is simply true – no matter which “side” you are on. Having said that, diving deeply into God by letting go of our own images, symbols, desires, transference, projection, and more, at least to the best of our ability, is pretty key in this.

Simply put, it is pretty dangerous to assume that God takes sides. Especially when they all end up being yours.

hectorWhen Jesus ascended he reminded everyone that the Spirit would come. When Jesus ascended he was pretty clear that he would always be with us in that way. When Jesus ascended he said nothing about whose side he was on because there is only one side in this – God’s side. If you think that is about preserving your own life, it might be a good time to go back and revisit how we got to the Ascension in the first place, that whole cross and dying thing. I know I need to review it pretty regularly, because no matter what I might write or how I might sound out here, I know almost nothing other than that each day I simply must start anew.giotto_ascension

Which way?

EDIT Yo Soy El CaminoRecently I listened to a podcast from The Commonwealth Club that truly captivated my mind and spirit. In this particular episode, Krista Tippett, the host of On Being was interviewed by Rev. Alan Jones. It was spectacular, so much so that I am on my second listen.

There are so many things that I am pondering about this episode, but the entire undercurrent for me is questioning who we are and where we are headed as a people. This has been on my mind already because I have been so deeply unhappy about our political situation at large. The program got me thinking further about which way I think we are headed.

One of the topics addressed by Tippett was the development of inner and outer lives, and how material wealth and poverty drive those lives – or don’t drive them. Of course, the cultivation of inner lives is not something truly valued in our American culture. I suppose that is why we value Continue reading

Curiosity and contempt

Camino Edith Wharton QuoteIt has been a little while since I have blogged. I’ve been either too tired, too busy, or too uninspired.  Anyway, I was reminded of this quotation from Edith Wharton today, always a favorite one of mine, so I made a meme out of it.  That got me thinking about how often my own desire and willingness to live as Wharton’s words suggest.

With the reminder that when I write, I’m talking to myself allow me to begin. Right up front we are reminded that being unafraid of change is step one.  Change?! Unafraid of change?! Oh sure, many of us will say we are fine with it… that’s generally the case as long as it is a change of our own choosing. Any change that chooses us? Not quite so easy to like that kind of change. That goes for change that comes forth as challenge in both large ways and small, as well as the less obvious invitations to grow. You know, like the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Those kinds of changes… are they so welcomed? Not always.

Having said all of that, I have long believed the words of a little wallet card that came into my possession in the mid-90’s. It read said, “Change always comes bearing gifts.” The moment I read those words, I immediately hated them. Yet, something in them caught my attention, the slightest little tug Continue reading

United States of Survivor

get hereOn May 31, 2000 something remarkable happened on television, all due to a replacement series that debuted that night. This television program turned the tide of “reality television” and has had a profound influence upon this country. In fact, perhaps more profound than we realize! The show is “Survivor on CBS.

Before I get too far allow me to say that I have never watched an entire episode this program. It never ever appealed to me, and when I learned more about it from obsessed friends, I felt nothing but revulsion. The idea that people would go against one another and vote people “off” the island, “outwitting” others so that one person wins a million dollars is – sorry people – abhorrent to me. Rome before the fall is what I thought then, Rome before the fall is what I feel now. Yeah, yeah, yeah – I sound like a snob, an elitist, a snowflake, go ahead. That’s fine by me. You may say that “It’s just a show, just a game” Watch the promo materials – it is called the “greatest social experiment” for a reason.
“Outwit, outplay, outlast” is the motto. Have fun all alone with your cool million you outwitter, outplayer, you outlaster you!

survivor-300x184Tonight I did begin to watch an episode of the show because I have been wanting to write about it. I’m not going to lie, I’m about 5 minutes into season 30, episode 1 and I can barely stomach it. Sorry Survivor fans. This has been my impression all along, now that I am seeing it – I hate that it is proving me right. I’ll try to keep going, but the motif is clear enough, and I can work with that. Let me share this example, a description of this season that I found here:

The cast is composed of 18 new players, initially split into three tribes containing six members each: Escameca (“Blue Collar”), Masaya (“White Collar”), and Nagarote (“No Collar”).

Perhaps you can begin to see what is so timely about all of this.

So what led me to all of this? Well – two things got the ball rolling. One was this podcast from Fresh Air, in which host Terry Gross interviews Maggie Haberman of the New York Times. Haberman has covered Donald Trump for the NYT for some time, and previously for multiple publications. The second thing that caught my attention was the printed text of this AP interview with the President that was recently published.

The final element was something that happened as I sat in a doctor’s waiting room. A man was talking to his wife about his pain, but then he began to speak of gratitude for how things could be so much worse. He was loud and it was a small waiting room, so I could not help but hear him over the din of CNN on the TV. His passion about gratitude had me near tears, I would not have expected that kind of talk from a man like this – older, larger, roughhewn. Then it happened, he glanced up at the TV, where Sean Spicer was going on about something, and the man went on a major rant about the liars, liberals, and losers that make up the media, and how they were hellbent on destroying President Trump.

Humans are complex, I thought, no – maybe complicated. Maybe both. Anyway, I could not muster anger for him. Yet I knew that he and I saw the world through a shared lens of gratitude, but a cracked lens of politics. As I sat in the exam room moments later, waiting for the doctor, somehow Survivor – for reasons I cannot explain – popped into my head.

Anyway, this is not a takedown of the president, I promise you it is not. It is an analysis of the current situation in the context of faith, culture, and politics. Who are we as a people? How did we get here?

This is too much information to go into very deeply so I will say this, and then urge you to find what it takes to watch at least one episode of Survivor if you have never seen it before. I picked the one that I did because it pitted white collar people versus blue collar people versus “no collar” people. (More free spirited.) SPOILER: A blue collar wins. NOT SPOILER: ust know that you will learn a lot about our country and our culture, just by watching the people introduce themselves.

Briefly, the Maggie Haberman interview on Fresh Air struck me because of the haunted description of Donald Trump.  A man who prefers to sleep in his own bed. Nothing wrong with that, but an oddity if you are the leader of the free world. And his isolation, gathering a cadre of people around him who are… well, they are who they are. Haberman’s take on Bannon staying or going was fascinating. You’ll need to listen to find out. It is just so much intrigue.

Make no mistake, all power centers are rife with intrigue! However, a leader of Trump’s personality and style bring us to levels of intrigue not seen before. Somehow that ol’ Bush White House with Cheney and Rove seems fairly benign to me. Anyway, it is a fascinating podcast full of things I knew, and many that I had not thought of.

hubrisThe AP interview struck me as primarily sad. Then it terrified me. I’m sad because our president simply cannot get through too many sentences without reminding everyone how great and successful he is. So much hubris, but what also appears to be so much insecurity. Whether President Trump is successful or not… I mean, if he is, then we do not need to be reminded on a constant basis. It is unseemly at best.  In the interview, of course he had to emphasize, even if it were true, that Obama got “zippo, zero” and yet Trump got the worker released from Egypt posthaste. I am glad that she is released, but gosh – does it all have to be about Trump? And then there is so much that is either awkward or unclear. Like when he is speaking, I find myself saying out loud to no one, “What is he on about now?”

Anyway, read it for yourself.

Finally – at it’s heart, Survivor is a completely set up “reality” program. As I watched the open for the episode, I saw how slick it was. I’m not surprised – after all, they have had 17 years to perfect it. And I am sad to say that our president, who is used to adulation via his businesses and via his own “reality” show is remarkably similar. I will say this, Survivor is better produced, more slick.

But isn’t it a kind of populist Trumpian dream that we “vote” off the losers so that we can end up with our own prosperous million? That we can have what we want, not sharing it at all? Let’s get all those “fill-in-the-blank” others out of here, and THEN we will be great. What if, what if. What about now? What about human dignity? What about life? What about a strong sense of the common good? I for one am sick to death of hearing about trickle down, as I have since the Reagan era… It is a reminder that others outwit, outplay, and outlast, so the fault with those on the bottom rungs must be their own.

As a Catholic I am also considering the theological implications of living the Eucharist and the kind of mindset that brings us Survivor and the current political situation. Sadly, many of us were catechized to believe that we somehow “earned” the right to the banquet of the Eucharistic table, and that we must “work” for it, and that we “take” communion, or “receive” communion. None of which is true. You cannot outwit, outlast, or outplay your community. Why would you want to? In its greatest sense, the best Eucharistic theology makes it clear that everyone needs to be at table. The Eucharist heals, binds, and propels – it is not the million dollar reward for driving everyone away.

This piece grows long, and I grow tired. At this point, I have merely skittered across the surface of some ideas. I will close this way – remember that a country hooked on “outplay, outwit, and outlast” gets the leadership it deserves. THAT is not a Trump problem, that is our problem and it seems the current president might fit nicely into the model.

What have we done to create this? What can we do to move forward? Me, I’m still wishing I could have had a conversation with the man in the waiting room who was one part graciously and humbly grateful and one part ranting and raving. Mostly I would have asked him questions starting with why. It could have been interesting, what I learned from him, and what he learned from me. If anything. We will never know.

At this point, I am not happy about life in the United States of Survivor, but it seems that is exactly where we are.

What do you think?

Wait – what?

photoHot, huffing, and puffing, I was four days into my camino. Strangely enough, my knees were not bothering me nearly as much as I imagined they would, nor were my legs too sore, but I was dogged by blisters. And by the overstimulated exhaustion that can come about in the pursuit of a dream. Four days in, I was still a Camino Santiago neophyte without a clue.

Making it to the top of Alto del Perdon was no joke. It was not as steep as it was to get from St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson, nor was as long and hard as it was to keep going uphill from there on the way to Roncesvalles. It was however hot! And again, those blisters. Ouchie. Anyway, making it to the top of Alto del Perdon was also a glorious moment – what a famous spot for those who know the Way of St. James! It is the place where the “the path of the wind meets the path of the stars.” In a word – magical.

Alto Sue Fran DeeanneLike most matters of faith, the high is often followed by a challenge. So consumed was I with getting up Alto del Perdon, I gave little thought to getting down. An essential camino lesson for me was this – going down is often far worse than going up. As we began our descent, my weariness gave way to an overwhelming anxiety with each footfall on the steep and rocky path. In fact, I felt certain that I might not be able to get down. I simply believed that I could not do it. And you know where that kind of thinking gets you.

nicodemus nightIn today’s Gospel from John, Nicodemus pays a visit to Jesus. At night. I love this imagery, poor old Nicodemus sneaking into see Jesus under the cover of darkness. It is a real struggle for Nicodemus to understand what it means to be “born again” and to be “born of the Spirit.” Here he is wrestling, like anyone who is inclined to being too literal, wondering how a “man once grown old” gets back into the womb to be born again. As usual, Jesus is trying to tell him. Jesus speaks to us in ways that leave us no place to go but deep into our hearts. Our literal and practical heads won’t allow us to understand, although our literal, practical – you know, our “realistic” heads – the ones that we value in the material world. Overvalue, it would seem.  Nicodemus is basically saying, “Wait – what?” Continue reading

Yes or no? The Good Friday edition.

EDITmoab (1).jpgMy friend Kevin Ahern, who is a theologian and ethicist said this on Twitter on Holy Thursday. I found the photo and added the text to it as a reminder of what forms crucifixion comes in. Systematic violence is inherently challenging because it is systematic. We “need” to do this, what are the “alternatives” if we do not do this, we will “get” the bad guys, and so forth.

As Jesus Christ hung on a cross he was flanked by a cross on each side. Crucified next to him were two thieves, and to one, the one who asked for help, Christ promised heaven.

There is no reconciling or rationalizing violence and death. Even when it is done to us, did we not receive the greatest lesson in not retaliating? I get the desire to retaliate, but what about the consequences? What will we choose this Triduum? To follow the Prince of Peace, the great reconciler and restorer of order and good? Or will we follow the path of crucifixion and death? The choice is ours, even if we wait until the last minute. Yes or no? To crucify or to be crucified? Yes or no? What will we choose?

Yes or no? The Holy Thursday edition.

siegerkoder-washing-of-feetOn this Holy Thursday, let us remember that where there is charity and love, God is there. God is always present, but in charity and love, the presence of God is made real. To love others, to serve others, to walk courageously with Christ, no matter what we face… this is our way of life.

However, we all fall asleep, get distracted, we can’t face the hardest truths, we do not always love as we have been loved. Yet, all it takes is one moment in which our avoidance, our fear, our absence all turns towards the One. A single yes uttered in a sea littered with the refuse of a lifetime of no no no can change everything. It does not have to happen in church, it might be a hello to a stranger, coffee for a homeless person, opening the door for that annoying neighbor and inviting them in instead of pretending not to be home. The charity and love of the word yes, typically a yes uttered in the face of resistance is the inbreaking of the divine.

The simple repeated chant of this Ubi caritas from Taize is a prayer for all of us. Where will charity and love be present today? The answer lies with each of us. Love one another, serve one another. May the blessings of Holy Thursday and the Triduum be with you all, may the eternal love of Christ guide us today and always.

Ubi caritas et amor,
ubi caritas,
Deus ibi est.
(Where there is charity and love,
God is there.)